Gāo Temple

Temple in Zhongwei

Gāo Temple means 'High Temple', and this is one of the most extraordinary temples in China, where the three faiths of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism are revered, although Buddhist deities are clearly in the ascendancy. Do check out the unnerving Arhat Hall (罗汉堂; Luóhàn Táng), which contains 500 arhat, many in grotesque and unsettling guises and postures, including one whose arm shoots through the ceiling. The drawcard oddity is the Dì Gōng (地宫), a former bomb shelter and labyrinth converted into a Buddhist hell.

The eerie, dimly lit tunnels contain numerous scenes of the damned having their tongues cut out, being sawed in half, eyes poked out or stoked in the fires of hell, while their screams echo all around. The ceiling is very low, so prepare to crouch your way through. Look for the signs to 'The Infernal'.

The name of the temple becomes clear after you exit the Hall of Heavenly Kings (天王殿; Tiānwáng Diàn) to climb some seriously steep steps to the halls high above. After your climb, you are greeted by woodwork in a blaze of gold, blue, green and vermilion paint. At the time of research, the temple halls on the upper floors at the top of the steps were closed. To the rear, a reclining Buddha lies supine in most relaxed fashion within the Sleeping Buddha Hall (卧佛殿; Wòfó Diàn), while other side halls are dedicated to Guanyin and other Bodhisattvas as a host of obscure Taoist deities peek out from smoky shrine niches in the walls.